Trains, Ale & The Poet by Martyn Clayton

‘You were cocky that first week at St Joseph’s,’ said Ian to Terry as the train pulled out of the station.  They’d been planning on having a quick pint in The Station Pump but Terry and Micky’s bus had been late so Ian had sat there drinking alone.

‘Oh aye, he was,’ said Micky. ‘Total gobshite.’

Terry grinned. ‘Nowt but nerves lads. Thought if I talked a big game no one would bother me. And it worked.’

No one knew what happened to Terry when he got home. That didn’t come out till several decades later. He’d sat crying over his snap tin when he was working on an architect build out near Ripponden. Shortly after he got back in touch with Micky and Ian his two best mates from school.

‘Remember Mr Grady called us The Three Amigos’ said Terry.

‘That were better than old Stan Riordan. He called us the three brass monkeys,’ said Micky.

‘His board rubber was lethal.’ Said Ian.  ‘Once flung it across the room at me but it hit Lance Fitzpatrick. Split his head open. Blood everywhere. The lad was concussed for days. School nurse just wrapped it up with a bandage and sent him home on his bike.’

‘Simpler times,’ said Micky. ‘An honest hardworking pillar of the community like old Stanley Riordan could draw blood from schoolboys and no one would bat an eyelid.’

‘Aye, and the funny thing was,’ said Ian. ‘Riordan was so embarrassed that he’d hit the wrong brat he concocted some story about Lance cheeking him. Me acting like a twat got completely forgotten.’

‘To be fair though it were nowt new if you were being a twat Ian,’ said Micky. ‘It were different for Lance. He was quiet as a mouse mostly.’

‘What’s he doing now?’ asked Terry.

‘He works at the council offices with me. Married with three kids. Lives up the Lees. You’ve probably seen him about. He’s lost his hair. Filled out.’

‘Haven’t we all,’ said Terry.

‘Not me lads’ said Ian. He was trimmer than the other two both of whom were hardly massive. Just a bit of middle-age spread, less hair on their head than they would like. Ian and a group of other lycra clad middle-aged men cycled up the hills onto the moors.

‘Fair play to you,’ said Terry. ‘I’m a lazy bastard that’s my problem. I get in, have me tea and then usually collapse on the sofa. I’m nodding off by eight.’

‘Physical job though Terry. You’re not going to feel like working out when you’ve been brickying all day are you.’

‘True, true.’

‘It’s different if your day job’s sedentary though.’ He glanced at Micky.

Micky wouldn’t bite. He wouldn’t say a word. The train announcer signalled they were approaching their first stop.

‘You’re going to love it lads,’ said Micky. ‘The Sidings first, then The Fiddle. They serve a cracking Rooster. Goes down really well.’

‘You’re going to have to point me in the right direction Micky,’ said Terry. ‘I’m not an ale aficionado like you.’

‘Oh he knows all about the booze don’t you lad,’ Ian jabbed him in the ribs. ‘That and poetry. All the useful stuff.’

‘You were telling me about this poet,’ said Terry.

‘He’s at the last stop. We’ll be nicely smouldering by then.’

‘What’s his name again?’ asked Ian.

‘Chris Langthwaite. He’s got a collection on the national curriculum. Poet in residence at Guiseley FC. Sometimes see him on the telly.’

‘Is he that bloke with an ear ring who were on Look North talking about birds ?’

‘Might have been.’

Ian laughed. ‘Why are they spoiling a good pub crawl with that arty farty shite.’

‘It’s not arty farty Ian. He speaks our language.’

Ian shook his head dismissively as the other passengers started to get to their feet.

The line ran through a valley surrounded by high moorland tops and steep moorland sides. The Sidings was next door to the station where they sat supping the first ale, a fruity little number called Champion Podesta produced at a micro-brewery in the neighbouring village.

‘Racehorse,’ said Ian. ‘I’m almost certain it’s named after a racehorse.’

Micky removed his phone and took a photo of his pint.

‘You’re meant to drink it Mick, not frame it.’

‘I’m just sharing it on Twitter lads.’

‘Twitter?’ Terry looked confused.

‘Yeah, I’m on there,’ he hurriedly shoved his phone back into his pocket. Terry shook his head. Ian pulled his own phone out of his pocket.

‘Let’s have a look then. Mick Ingram. Eyup, here he is.’ Ian squinted at his screen. ‘Ha! Get this Terry, IngMan64, “Good books, good ale and the good life”.’ He showed the phone to Terry. ‘You pranny Mick.’

Mick looked hurt. ‘What?’

‘Who do you think you are?’ Ian was shaking his head. ‘I’m disappointed in you. I never thought you’d become one of them.’

‘One of them?’

‘Aye, you know.’ He sipped on his beer.

‘No, I don’t Ian.’

‘You do. Tosser. Like the older lads at school. The ones who passed the 11 plus to get there. The wanky rugby union lot. The ones who couldn’t wait to move down south. Them lot.’

‘I’m not like them. I’m nowt like them.’

Terry was frowning at them both.

‘You’re not but you want to be. That’s the problem. That’s what makes it so tragic.’

‘I hated that lot,’ said Terry finally.

‘I think the feeling was mutual Terry,’ said Micky.

‘We’re not talking about Terry here we’re talking about you Mick.’

‘Give it a rest Ian, I’m not in the mood.’ He took a large glug of ale. The glass was now less than half full.

Micky remembers those days.  He knows if they kept the selective system in place he might have actually made it on merit. Then he’d never have been burdened with Terry and Ian. Then his life might have been different.

Second drink of the day was Ian’s choice. He went for pints of Shakeout. Thick, treacly, over six percent proof. Micky knew it was named after foundry machinery but said nothing. Terry was enjoying the pint pulling his face into contented looks.

‘Thanks for this lads. It’s what I needed.’ Said Terry.

‘No problem sunshine,’ said Ian.

 

‘I think I’d grown boring lads. That was why Ann left me.’

Ian said he couldn’t believe Terence Fitzpatrick would ever grow boring. It wasn’t in his nature. Micky thought that was probably a lie.  When he was at school it wasn’t that he was ever interesting. There was nothing particularly compelling about physical intimidation. In the early days Micky was glad to be Terry’s friend. As they grew older he realised there wasn’t much too it. If you looked behind the curtain you didn’t see anything to be scared of. Just a boy with much to hide.

‘I should be grateful I suppose. At least I didn’t end up in prison. I’ve got a mortgage.’

It was staff room settled opinion that Terry would end up behind bars. When they all left school at 16 Terry had been first to gain steady employment as a labourer. Then he learnt how to lay bricks. Since then he’d never been out of work. Which was more than could be said for Ian and Mick.  Ian managed a cycle shop, Micky still worked for the council.

The mood had grown predictably sombre. They were all middle aged and maudlin. Ian’s snide commentary didn’t help. He looked a little sharper than the other two. Was a little quicker with his put-downs. He walked with a slight swagger. If he looked his age he wore it well. The kind of older man who might appeal to younger women. Under different circumstances Micky was sure he could find it in himself to hate him. As his oldest friend that wasn’t an option.

‘Tell you what lads it’s a credit to you both that you’re still mates,’ Terry had decided to raise a tipsy finger towards the large elephant that was sitting in the corner of the room.

‘Aye, yeah. We’ve had our ups and downs Terry,’ said Micky. He didn’t look at Ian. Not even a glance. Instead he lifted his pint to his lips and knocked back the contents. He glanced at his watch then reached for his jacket off the back of his chair. ‘Time look. We’ve got a train to catch.’

Mick and Ian were quiet on the walk to the station. Terry had been chattering away to himself about the weather, and the factories that used to employ people round here and pubs that did a good meal at reasonable prices. When they got to the station there were a gaggle of other crawlers, some of them were in fancy dress. Batman and Robin were necking at the end of the platform Terry staring at them open mouthed before looking back towards his colleagues.

‘It’s a lass!’ he said with a laugh. ‘I thought it were two blokes but Robin’s a lass.’

’21st century Terry,’ said Micky. ‘Even lasses can be superheroes now you know.’

Ian laughed. It was an approving laugh. Micky gave him a wink. Despite everything it felt good to have Ian’s approval. It would be alright. He would get through the rest of the day with his pride intact. At the next pub they’d not have to talk as much as Chris Langthwaite was doing his reading. The conquering literary hero back in his home village.

The crawlers poured themselves out of the train and onto the platform at Moordene, the most isolated community in the valley.  There was a small art gallery featuring whimsical canvases of colourful sheep and a Co-Op proudly advertising its Ginsters Steak Slices. The pub was called The Boatman and it sat in large grounds at the end of the village. Batman led Robin inside, Hitler and Telly Savalas followed after.

The bar was buzzing. The crawl had gathered numbers as it moved further into the valley. You had to wonder where they all came from. Micky looked around. There in the corner was a familiar figure. He was of their generation, dressed like a mid-80s indie kid but his black hair, still fashioned into a decade defying moptop, had gone completely grey. In his left ear was an earring. A grey cardigan stretched across a Smiths – Meat is Murder t-shirt. Micky had read his books and heard him on the radio but had never seen the man in person. He felt slightly overwhelmed. He was practically one of them.

‘Where’s this tossy poet then ?’ asked Ian handing Micky a pint of  Middle-Aged Regret. Micky took a swig, it tasted gassy and overly bitter. He nodded in the direction of Chris Langthwaite.

‘Him ? He doesn’t look like a poet. He looks like he works in a record shop.’

‘What should a poet look like Ian?’ asked Micky.

‘I don’t know. Crushed velvet jacket? Hush puppies.’

‘Cravat ?’

‘Aye, yeah. A cravat.’

 

The landlord rang a bell and shouted for everyone’s attention.

‘I’d like to welcome you to the best pub in the valley!’ a cheer went up accompanied by a groan. A crusading knight staggered towards the toilet his plastic sword accidentally on purpose jabbing a large breasted woman in the chest who proceeded to slap him around the face.

‘I beg your silence for our prolific local poet Mr Christopher Langthwaite,’ continued the landlord.

There was the sound of applause and whistles. Langthwaite stepped into the middle of the bar, a space clearing around him.

‘I think another word for prolific is verbose,’ he dead panned. The crowd chuckled. Ian made a wanker gesture with his right hand. Terry laughed. Micky elected not to see it.

‘This one’s called Valley Boy’ said the poet. There was a considered hush. Vegas Elvis pulled his phone out of his jumpsuit.

 

‘A scabby football and a gable end were all we ever needed’

 

On he went. Micky was entranced. He didn’t even put his pint to his lips. The words were amazing. And he painted life here in this valley. It was all so specific yet universal. And his delivery was so ordinary yet compelling. The noisy boisterous pub filled with drunk superheroes, dictators and corpulent rock stars was completely hushed. Apart from Ian. Apart from Terry.

‘Fuck knows what he’s on about,’ said Ian as the poem came to an end. ‘Haha! Yeah! Fuck knows!’ said Terry like an idiot echo. The poet looked up for a second then down at his manuscript.  Micky thought he must be used to this sort of thing. He knew he liked to take poetry into the real world. Pubs, workplaces, football terraces, supermarkets. He was bound to encounter idiots as well as nutters. With Ian and Terry, he had both. Langthwaite started on his second poem, ‘A Minor Hold-Up On The Snake Pass’. Ian made an indiscernible mutter. Terry looked bewildered.

Micky wondered what had possessed him to invite them. These things make perfect sense in the privacy of your own head, then they bump up against the jaded reality of other people and die a sorry, embarrassing death. A grim shadow of his childhood had returned to laugh at his adult pretensions.  He should have left this valley, left these friends far behind. He should be a different person rarely thinking of these people.  That was his problem. He didn’t know when to leave things behind.

Langthwaite was on poem number three, ‘The Things We Failed To Do’. Micky realised he hadn’t been properly listening. The poet reached the end of the poem. The same line repeated three times;

 

And he told himself it wasn’t too late’

 

The final late was met with a moment’s silence then loud cheers from the crowd.  Langthwaite acknowledged them with an embarrassed wave.

‘What a load of self-indulgent shite,’ spat Ian. Micky looked at him. Even Terry looked shocked. ‘What the fuck are we doing here Mick?’ It wasn’t good humoured. It was angry, embittered.

‘Just having a laugh Ian,’ said Terry. He attempted to clink glasses with Ian who pulled his glass towards his stomach and out of his reach. Terry looked chastened and unsure. He said something about going to the toilet and started to push through the crowd.

‘Calm down Ian. You’d don’t need to act up now.’

‘What’s your problem Mick? You brought us here to try and show us up? Your thick mates.’

‘No mate. I stupidly thought you might enjoy it. But as ever I was a twat for thinking anything.’

‘You’re always a twat Mick. I’m glad you know it. Elaine certainly knows it. She tells me enough times. I left him because he was such a twat she says.’

It’s pathetic. Micky should be angry. He should take a swing at the guy, but he can’t be bothered. All this time he’s tried to do the right thing. He’s tried to be big about the situation. His partner for eighteen years going to live his best mate from school. These things happen and they’re all adults. It’s no need to get weird or lose a friendship. The day Ian told him what had been going on he cried like a baby and asked for forgiveness. Micky had hugged him and said he understood. It was nobody’s fault.

That wasn’t how he felt inside but that was what had to be said for this tiny world keep on spinning. Elaine may no longer be with him, but she was still around. All the underhand gloating of Ian couldn’t change that.

‘Did I ever tell you we go at it like hammer and tongues Mick,’  Ian is now standing chin to chin with Micky. A grin on his face, saliva at the corner of his mouth. ‘She loves it mate. Can’t get enough of me.’

‘You’re drunk Ian.’  He turned away, placed his glass on the bar and looked at his watch. Ian grabbed the back of his jacket.

‘Tell me I’m a better man than you.’

‘You what?’

‘You heard me. Tell me I’m a better man than you. I’ve got a better house. A better job. More money and your bird. Tell me Mick. Tell me how I’ve turned out better than a sad loser like you with your good books and good ale and poncey fucking poets. Tell me Mick.’

‘I’m not telling you anything Ian.’ He caught sight of Terry coming out of the gent’s toilets. ‘Now if you don’t mind me I’ve got a train to catch.’

Terry gave him a wide innocent grin as he saw him emerging through the crowd. The poet was in conversation now. He’d been grabbed by Bonnie & Clyde who had produced copies of his first collection. They didn’t look very old beneath their wigs and hats. Perhaps young enough to have read it at school. Micky walked across to them.

‘Oh hi,’ Micky said to the poet grabbing a beer mat from the table next to him. ‘Could you sign this for me.’

He handed him the beer mat.

‘No problem, what would you like me to write?’

‘And he told himself it’s never too late’

The poet scribbled on the back of the beer mat and handed it to Micky who looked at it.

‘And could you dedicate it to Ian Walsh please?’

The poet took the mat again added another line and then handed it back. Micky looked at it then back at Langthwaite who was now talking to Terry.

‘I don’t know anything about poetry,’ said Terry. ‘But that were great.’

Micky handed Terry the beer mat, told him to give it to Ian and then left the pub in search of a train back through the high sided valley and home.

Martyn Clayton

Banner Image: Pixabay.com

3 thoughts on “Trains, Ale & The Poet by Martyn Clayton

  1. The expressions degrade as the consumption increases. Brilliant realism. Add booze to old resentments and you get anger. Poet serves as both a prophet and an observer of situations so ordinary that they are indistinguishable from fate. I find myself liking Ian a little, even though he’s an asshole.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Martyn,
    These characters were very believable.
    The tensions and history were becoming more relevant as time lessened their bond.
    Sometimes ‘friends’ being part of our past is all that we have but when we realise that, it is time to let go.
    You captured all this superbly.
    Hugh

    Liked by 1 person

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